George Kurovics was proud of his military work in World War II, during which he served as a tail gunner on reconnaissance planes in the South Pacific.
“He was proud of his country just as much,” said his son George in an interview Wednesday morning, a day after the 90-year-old was struck and killed on Main Road in Jamesport by an alleged drunken driver.
Mr. Kurovics enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1944 at just 16, after receiving permission from his parents, an act his son said “showed how he wanted to serve his country and what type of person he was.”
He was honorably discharged in 1947 and opened a barbershop in 1948 — George’s Rocky Point Barbershop — which his family believes to be the longest-running business in Rocky Point.
He was hit around 7:15 p.m. Tuesday by Diane O’Neill, 65, of Farmingville — a longtime Southold teacher who was then arrested on a DWI charge. Up to that moment, Mr. Kurovics was still working five days a week at the shop along with his wife, Joyce.
“We were definitely expecting him home [from work] around the time that this happened,” his son said Wednesday.
The younger Mr. Kurovics — who lives with his family and is known as “Little George” in the tight-knit neighborhood at the south end of Herricks Lane — said that when his father didn’t come home, he went outside to look for him.
“I saw the sirens and I started walking over there and I spotted his truck. It was still running, with all of its stuff in it,” he said. “I saw a body under a cover, obviously hoping it wasn’t his. Then I saw his … hat on the sewer drain.”
The family believes Mr. Kurovics had stopped after he spotted one of the family’s cats dead on the roadside.
“I thought it only made sense that he saw the cat and was getting it so that we could bury it in the yard,” he said. “I’m assuming he wasn’t even crossing the street.”
“Crazy enough,” Mr. Kurovics explained, his father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two years ago and given just six months to live. A risky, complicated Whipple surgical procedure saved his life.
“He actually beat the pancreatic cancer and we were just about to go on to the two-year marker, cancer-free,” he said. “Otherwise, he was just a warm-hearted, loving man. He liked to stay active. He liked to stay moving.”
Mr. Kurovics liked to tend his garden and chop wood to keep his family warm, family and neighbors said.
On his ability to continue cutting hair at an advanced age, his wife said, “It was a relaxed atmosphere for him to work in.”
“He was a hard-worker,” she added. “Labor was what drove him.”
The Kurovics met in the barbershop in 1978 after she took a job there. They were married a year later and had their son.
“We worked together on a daily basis,” Ms. Kurovics said.
At the barbershop, Mr. Kurovics entertained countless people over the years as he cut their hair.
“He always had a story, always had a joke,” said longtime customer Steve Friello.
Mr. Friello, 46, moved to Rocky Point in 1996. He’s gotten his hair cut at George’s ever since, he said, as have his three sons. Every year, he said, Mr. Kurovics would give him tomatoes from his garden.
“It was just a pleasure going there and listening to what he had to say,” Mr. Friello said. “The stories of his life and the things he did were just fascinating.”
Ruth Doroski, who lives next door to the Kurovics, said no one on the block heard the crash. They just heard sirens and later saw the lights.
“I just happened to go out to the road and I saw him,” she said. “He was the nicest man you ever wanted to meet. Very considerate. Always had a joke to tell.”
Another neighbor, Dr. Peter Badmajew, 86, said he had known Mr. Kurovics for almost 50 years.
“He was a very brave person,” he said. “He was energetic and full of joy and very helpful. He was such a pleasure.”
Mr. Kurovics is also survived by an ex-wife, Mary-Lou Stein of Port Jefferson, and their three adult children: Joy, Linda and Lee.
“His children, grandchildren and great grandchildren all made a tradition of getting their first haircut by Papa George at the barbershop,” Ms. Kurovics said.
Ms. O’Neill, a teacher for 21 years in the Southold School District, had been westbound in her 2007 Mercedes-Benz on Main Road near Herricks Lane shortly after 7:15 p.m. when the crash occurred, according to a police report.
Main Road remained closed for about four hours for an investigation, according to Stringer News.
During the arraignment, Riverhead Town Justice Allen Smith said police at the scene reported that Ms. O’Neill was unsteady on her feet, with glassy, bloodshot eyes and an odor of alcohol on her breath following the accident. She told police she had two glasses of wine at dinner and was heading home, prosecutors said.
A blood sample was taken from Ms. O’Neill, the mother of two grown children, and the case is expected to go to a grand jury for consideration of upgraded charges, prosecutors said.
Her son, Sean, appeared with her in court Tuesday. He declined comment outside the courtroom.
Ms. O’Neill told Judge Smith she has been a teacher for 35 years. Her longtime employer, the Southold School District, offered the following statement Wednesday: “The district has learned that Diane O’Neill, a math teacher at Southold High School, has been arrested off school grounds for an incident unrelated to her employment with the district. The district is truly saddened to learn of this tragic accident. The Southold Board of Education and administration extend our deepest condolences to the families involved in this tragedy. Ms. O’Neill is a veteran educator with twenty-plus years of service and no prior incidents. Her status with the district is pending.”
Bail was set at $10,000 and Ms. O’Neill is due back in court at 2 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 15.
WITH JOSEPH PINCIARO